Michael Martin, Head of Student Problems, studied Chemical Engineering at Newcastle University before dropping out and beginning to work on Student Problems. At that point the page had 40,000 likes on Facebook, and within a year he has headed up its growth to over 4.4 million followers.
The Uni Bubble had the opportunity to ask Michael some questions about his story so far and the advice he has for current students.
You’ve played an instrumental role in building the largest student community in Europe. When was it that you decided you wanted to build communities online?
I would say the first time I became properly interested in building online communities was back when I first got Twitter in 2011. I saw random people who weren’t actual celebrities with huge followings and at first I almost found it slightly annoying, thinking ‘why do these random people deserve such huge followings?’ but then I started to realise that if they could do it then I definitely could as well. From there I built my personal account to 1,000 followers pretty quickly and then just kept trying to create parody accounts. My ‘big break’ as such, came when I created ‘Year 9 Banter’ which grew from 0 followers to 100,000 followers in just a few weeks, with no money and no network to help it grow – all that growth was completely organic.
What advice do you have for any student who feels stuck doing a degree they don’t want to continue with?
The best advice I can give regarding this topic is that if you don’t feel like your degree will help you on your path to happiness and career satisfaction, then without a doubt it’s not worth continuing. I made the mistake of just doing a degree because it was a good degree to do, not because I wanted to become a chemical engineer. This led to me becoming very unhappy and feel like I was literally wasting my life, I couldn’t see my future because I knew that even after I graduated I wouldn’t be able to go into a career I would enjoy. However I also think that it’s very important not to confuse normal university stress with being unhappy in your degree: university is always going to have hard moments. It’s when it gets to the point that you’re never enjoying it and you start to feel like it’s pointless that you should start considering dropping out.
What do you feel is the biggest problem facing students as a whole in the UK at the moment?
I think by far that the biggest problem facing students in the UK as a whole is the price of higher education. And when I say that I’m not particularly referring to tuition fees. Whereas these are also a big issue, they are paid back very slowly and only when you’re earning a certain amount of money – some people never even pay them back. The real problem is the cost of living. Student accommodation is only getting more expensive – but maintenance loans aren’t adjusting to match this. You’re now extremely lucky if you can get accommodation for under £100 a week, but maintenance loans start at around £3,600 a year. Therefore it’s at the point where before a student has even paid their rent, their entire loan is gone. This results in many students working multiple jobs on top of all their degree work just to literally survive and for many this is just too much.
What can Student Problems and other publishers in the student space do to help with this problem?
Student Problems as well as other publishers can help change this by raising awareness about the vast number of students who suffer due to this, as well as easily bringing students together to help campaign against this issue as well as any other issue facing students.
What do you feel is the biggest factor to your success?
I suppose it’s the classic answer that everyone gives but that’s because it’s almost always the truth, and it’s simply hard work. If you work hard and set your mind to something you’ll always achieve something. It may not be what you originally set out to achieve but you will have learnt so much and then this knowledge may be what helps you to really become successful. As well as this I would say that dedication and forward thinking are two other key factors. And by forward thinking I mean constantly having a vision for where you want to be with something and constantly use that as your motivation and drive. I’ve done this ever since my GCSEs and A Levels, where I used to visualise myself achieving the grades I wanted and using that image to keep myself motivated. Also finally I would add that since leaving university I’ve been surrounded by all the right, like-minded people who’ve been able to offer huge amounts of advice and guidance.
There is constant debate around tuition fees and whether university is worth the £9000 a year, how do you feel about this issue?
I think that this question is one which doesn’t have a simple answer. If, for example, your dream is to become a doctor or a lawyer, then the only way you’ll be able to achieve that is through getting a degree, in which case the £9,000 a year in tuition fees you’re paying is more than worth it. However, if you’re unsure what you want out of your degree, or you’re only doing a degree because you feel like you need a degree to succeed, then I definitely don’t think the cost is worth it.
Finally, if you could give your 18 year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Simply to keep your options open and don’t feel like you have to stay on one path your whole life. You may be good at one thing but don’t feel like that’s your only option – if there’s something that you’re passionate about then pursue that. I realised within two weeks of being at uni that I hated my degree but I didn’t even consider changing course because I felt like this is what I’d chosen and to change would be giving up, but looking back that absolutely wouldn’t have been the case.
Student Problems are in the top 30 fastest growing Facebook pages in the world and the 6th most viewed publisher in the UK, beating Sky News, BBC News and Channel 4 News. Like their page to follow their journey – you’re sure to be entertained by their funny and relatable posts.